Brunch before noon is just a breakfast.
Brunch without booze is also a breakfast.
Many such memes exist about the hoity, sceney meal that once used to be tucked into grandma’s kitchens, and now sits as a staple statement that every instagram addict, aspirant celebrity and restaurant in the reckoning fortifies and publicizes to the stars. Even in Chicago, one of my favorite culinary cities with everything from local pizza to Michelin stars, a couple of them at that. A city known for its turbulent winters, and one that becomes my holy grail of lifestyle when the sun shines bright and the succulent summer approaches. On one such day, I ventured into the Godfrey Hotel‘s touted rooftop, IO Godfrey, for a Sunday Brunch.
A year round rooftop space, it looked over the architectural spectacle of Chicago, with views that were accentuated by the clear skies and shiny sunshine. To think this was the staple of cocktail drenched nightlife, where the Chicago night owls perched and stalked by night, swaying to DJ tunes and creating stories with the backdrop of glittering lights. The only memory of which was the cleaned up white couches, silver reserved signs and pretentious red ropes.
What arrived as a pleasant ambiance, soon turned into a game of waiting. For as a food critic and luxury traveler, my perch at a coveted corner overlooking the city in my sunglasses was a given. However, the smile-less faces of hostesses, all clad in white tennis style skirts and oversized sunglasses, left a lot to be desired. As if nursing hangovers, they repeatedly catwalked by sans menus and orders (with the attitude version of ‘fresh’, as one neighboring table pointed out), coming close to being one of the most atrocious culinary service experiences. Gratified only by the arrival of one of the chefs, who carefully listened to my complaint, which may have been a result of my dismissive face or my frustrated tweet. Oh the joys of social media. Thereafter, things got mildly better.
I started with a recovery drink, a classic blueberry mimosa with a distinct taste of La Marca. With a tad too few fresh blueberries in the mix, it was nonetheless a refreshing drink for a sparkling Chicago day, a rarity in the windy city.
Next came my favorite bite of the day. My obsession with grapefruits is a fruit’s throw away from my love for pomegranates. To think they are also a fit boy’s fruit with their negative calories, and their palette cleansing ability that makes them perfect for brunch, seen formerly too. This was a simple brûlée of a half slice of pomegranate with raw cane sugar. With perfectly scorched marks on the tender, tangy juice of the blood red grapefruit, it was one that I had to peer and ogle at sans sunglasses. The fresh mint leaf was a colorful move, and an aromatic contributor that worked. One bite into it, and the crackle of sugar gave way to the sour freshness of the fruit. And 30 seconds later, it was gone.
For a healthy bite, I opted for a fresh green salad with organic (what isn’t these days) mesculin greens, roasted grapes, toasted almonds and black fig and pomegranate dressing. While fluffy and fresh, the dish lacked an elemental crunch as the toasted almonds were diamonds in the haystack. Nonetheless, the roasted grapes, still warm, were a redemption, as was the hint of the Middle East in the dressing. A healthy bite for an approaching summer season.
The main brunch dish was a plate of huevos rancheros. Two visibly chili drenched poached eggs were surrounded by gringo salsa, crispy tortilla fritters, micro cilantro and a dash of guacamole. The plating left a lot to be desired, for similar to some of the disenchanted damsels poising as waitresses, the sprinkle of fritters seemed like an afterthought, and what could have been a play on red, white and green ingredients seemed more like kid’s play. However, the taste was spot on: well poached eggs, with enough hot spice balancing with the chilly guacamole, and an adequate crunch with the fritters. Nothing like a hearty protein brunch to get over that Saturday soiree and treat the hangover.
And thus ended a healthy, filling trio of disparate brunch bites, with a few attitudinal and service blemishes and a slight desire for the presentation to be as flawless as the impeccable city itself. However, with a dynamite rooftop location and sumptuous tastes, the meal made for a fresh and charming start to a Sunday in Chicago.
And now to recall how my Chicago nights were spent.